Thursday, July 31, 2008

Project Runway Season 5: Episode 3

This week on Project Runway, I'm waiting for a villain and some drama. Oh, and some inspired fashion. Last week really hurt my feelings. 

This week, for the model assignments, the winning and losing designers' models come out. Suede has a choice, he can keep Tia or swap with another designer. "Suede loves Tia. Suede's going to keep Tia." So, Alyssa's out. 

Heidi sends them back to Atlas to meet Tim, who's going to take them out on the town. They cheer. No, you idiots! Out on the town is a challenge! Nothing is free! Jerell things that it may be a nice dinner or go out. Stella thinks Tim is going to take them to a nice bar or restaurant that may be his favorites. Going out to the clubs? Well, they'll at least be out in the rain. THey come out wearing ugly orange ponchos. 

The destination of their challenge? A City Sights NY tour bus! They all go up to the top deck in the rain. Oh, how I love Tim! The challenge is to create an outfit inspired by NYC at night. Four stops, a group gets off, and they have to take photographs in an  hour. 

Ah, Kenley and Stella argue when Kenley walks in front of Stella's shot. Okay, some drama. But enough? 

Back at the workroom, they have half an hour to pick their photos, and the shopping budget is $100. And, they can choose their own fabrics for the first time. The winner has immunity for the next challenge and cannot be eliminated. 

Kenley is looking for some 40s/50s stuff. Stella is probably looking for leather. Leanne was looking for charmeuse, and Terri--wait, who was Terri again? Either she's out this week or she's in, because they're focusing on her a bit! Suede is giving flecks of color. Keith is also getting more air time as well, and we haven't heard anything from Korto. Everyone has an opinion on Keith's dress. Stella is hammering and making people mad. 

Tim checks in. Jennifer (who is Jennifer?) has a bad hemline that she needs to work on. Tim is worried that Keith's dress won't have shape. He loves the silhouette of Kenley's dress, but it looks costumey. Terri is into street culture, and the influence of her picture is clear in her outfit. 

Keith's model had to drop out of the competition and Alyssa would be coming back to take her place. Sandra Bernhardt was the guest judge. 

After the scoring, Heidi calls Keith, Kenley, Emily, Terri, Jennifer, and Leanne. Those not called were qualified to move on to the next round. 

Keith, Emily, and Jennifer are on the bottom. Kenley, Terri, and Leanne are the top three. I think Leanne did a really good job of not overthinking this design. I think Jennifer's was the most boring of the lot. If they're going by boring, then Jennifer's out. If they're going by execution, then it's Keith; if they're going by Nina's lack of a comment, then it's Emily. As for the winner, I like Terri's. 

The winner is.... Kenley. She has immunity for the next challenge. 

The auf'ed contestant is... Emily. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive is labelled as "A Novel of Suspense". I definitely would not categorize it as romance and it's not chick lit, despite the first-person narrative. 

Lady Emily Ashton is a widow, her husband having died a year and a half previous to the opening of the novel. She married Philip in an effort to leave the home of her overbearing mother, who is very much aware of social standing but not much else. Through reading his journals, she finds that her husband was very interested in Greek antiquities. She begins to immerse herself in Greek learning, starting with Homer, and begins to embark on the life of an "eccentric" young woman. 

Through the course of her education in all things Greek, Emily travels to Paris, where she meets Mr. Andrew Palmer. Palmer's father is interested in publishing a monograph in honor of her husband. While looking through his papers, Emily is disturbed to find a tale of stolen antiquities and forgeries. With the help of her new friends, the American Margaret, and Mrs. Cecile du Lac, Emily researches the role her husband played in this mystery, and she finds that the love she could not give him in life she has found in his death. 

What makes this book so interesting is its setting. Amidst books set in the Regency, a book set in the late Victorian Era is refreshing. Women were beginning to be allowed more liberties while still experiencing a social constraint so foreign to our modern mores. This alone makes the book fresh and interesting. 

Alexander also leaves detail to the imagination. She does not spend pages describing the rooms and the settings to the reader, giving just enough detail to give an impression, while letting the reader fill in the rest. I appreciate this because Alexander does not make the book a "role-playing" type of read, where the characters are modern day people acting like people from the Victorian Era. This irritates me to no end in many historical novels. I didn't feel that way at all with this book! 

She also uses real people in their real settings. Among them are the artist Renoir and Alexander Murray, the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. Their roles were small enough that Alexander did not ruin the integrity of the real people. 

I give this book an A+ and look forward to reading more in this series. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Project Runway Season 5: Episode 2

Okay, here we go, Episode 2! 

At the beginning, the designers get to choose their models, and the models file off the stage as they are picked. Then they come back on the stage, which confuses everyone. Ah, but it's  a twist on the wedding dress challenge in Season 1. The models are their clients, and they are to make a "green" cocktail dress. Then another twist--the models are to do the shopping! Most of the designers are shocked; what does a model know about good fabrics and notions? 

What, indeed? The models are given half an hour to shop. One model asks immediately for organic fabrics (you go, girl!) and another asks how much is in a yard (yeesh). Some models have the same fabric, one is rushing around with peacock feathers, and the designers are scared shitless. When they return, the models and designers have 30 minutes to caucus. 

There are a couple of challenges in here: what the models want; working with clients; and working with the materials that the models brought in. It's a challenge to see who is innovative and can use what's available to them. I have a feeling that whoever had trouble with the Gristede's grocery store challenge is not going to have a good time with this one. Take Stella, for example: her client is earthy and wants something beachy, while Stella is urban rocker chic. Stella had a problem with the previous challenge as well. 

And then there's Suede, "a bisexual Sagittarius who likes long walks on the beach", who talks about himself in third person. 

Wesley, Joe, and Leanne have the same fabric. 

Tim Gunn comes in and shocks everyone with two announcements. 1) No immunity, with the winner's dress being manufactured by 2) A famous young starlet is going to be the guest judge. 

On elimination day, Tim says the group is turning him into a wreck with the amount of work left to be done. Sounds like he's as unimpressed as the previous challenge, when all those slackers used tablecloths. 

And everyone is loving it that Natalie Portman, environmentalist and starlet, is the surprise judge. And which designer (apart from Leather Stella) is going to go on the record saying that they don't like using green fabrics? 

Once the "safe" designers leave the stage, we are left with Kenley, Suede, Wesley, Stella, Korto, and Leanne. Leanne, Wesley, and Korto are the bottom three, with Wesley and Leanne have the same fugly brown satin. 

(On the poll, Blayne's tanorexia came in with 37%, while Suede's use of third person came in with 47% of the vote as craziest thing, but they circled Blayne's 37%.) 

Stella is in, Suede won, Kenley is in, Korto is in, and we're down to Wesley and Leanne. Both of them had the fugly brown satin. Wesely's dress is unflattering with a poor fit, while Leanne had too many ideas and she couldn't edit. Heidi called it a school project. I say Leanne's out. 

Nope. She's in! Wesley's out. I suppose a school project ranks higher than poor fit. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

The Deception of the Emerald Ring is the third in Willig's Pink Carnation series. As in a series, the set-up in both books are similar, with the main story of each book being historical and book-ended by a contemporary setting.

Eloise Kelly is still researching her thesis on spies from the Napoleonic era, specifically the Pink Carnation. With minimal assistance from the Selwick family, descendants of the Purple Gentian (another flower-spy), Eloise has made in-roads into not only the escapades of the Pink Carnation but the emergence of the French spy, the Black Tulip. She has not, however, made in-roads with Colin Selwick. 

In the past, Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe has planned to elope with English beauty Mary Allsworthy. Unfortunately, his plot is foiled by her younger sister Letty, who throws herself smack-dab into rumor and ruin. Geoff leaves his new bride behind while going off to Ireland, but unwilling to let her husband humiliate her by gadding off, Letty follows him. When she reaches Dublin, she finds herself in the middle of espionage--along with her husband and the Pink Carnation. 

I have much the same thoughts on the tendencies of series to go on too long with this book as I had with the previous book. Add into that the ho-hum nature of the current trend to write during the time of Jane Austen, and that part is the same as my previous review. So, I'm going to move on to other things. 

I noticed again in this book that Willig, while well-versed in British history, doesn't know her ancient empires as well. Letty has this conversation with Lord Vaughn in a crypt (p. 217): 
"You would prefer to die for something else perhaps? A cause? An ideal?" He paused, holding up his cane... "A country?"
"You left out old age," replied Letty.
"How very unambitious of you, Mrs. Alsdale."
"Alexander the Great died in his bed."
"Not so Caesar," countered Lord Vaughn, adding, with particular emphasis, "or Brutus."
Rather than bandy Romans, with whom her acquaintance was strictly limited, Letty resorted to changing the subject."

Where shall I begin? An assumption made by the casual reader is that Alexander the Great was Roman. He wasn't. He was Macedonian. He was responsible for spreading Hellenistic (not to be confused with Hellenic) culture throughout the known world at that time. The Roman Empire didn't exist yet, not until the rise of Caesar in the first century BC (or BCE). Don't lump them all together, please. And perhaps you could say that Letty was mistaken in that, but Lord Vaughn would know better. The next thing is that yes, Alexander the Great died in bed, but it was most definitely not from old age, and this was a known-fact during Letty's time. He was relatively young, in his thirties, and died from either a stomach ailment from bad food or from poison. Take your pick. But NOT old age. 

The book is just as cheeky as the first two installments. I bought the way that Geoffrey fell in love with Letty over the course of their assignment. It was gradual and both began to respect each other. Their conversations were delightful, even if they were about how horrible mimes were. It's a testament to Willig's skill as a writer that she is able to tie Eloise and Colin's story to those of the spies. In Black Tulip, much of the scenery  is the same over 200 years; in this book, much of the conversation is echoed across time. (That would be mimes.) 

I also liked the use of Ireland as a backdrop. Ireland is ignored as a setting, bypassed for the more glamorous England. Too bad that Ireland still got short shrift culturally, because I find it much more interesting, but eh, I didn't write the book. She pokes a bit of fun at the Irish (and the Americans in the Eloise scenes, silly expats!) with the rebel song (p. 383): 
Why in the hell did rebel movements always have to express themselves in song? Geoff recognized it as "The Lament of Lord Edward Fitzgerald," a lugubrious little ditty that began "Why lie ye here so pale and cold, Edward, Edward?" and went on along that vein for the whole of thirty-eight verses, including a glowing report of Lord Edward's childhood lessons and his preference for jammy tarts at sea ("Oh, ye who liked the raspberry, Edward, Edward"), before getting on to the usual bits about bloody blades, bared breasts, and women weeping.

I can't help but like this. It's hilarious. 

So what's my grade? An A-. You killed me at the Alexander the Great bit. 

Monday, July 21, 2008

What is up with my craft stores?

Lately I've been hitting walls with the craft stores. Hobby Lobby stopped carrying Bernat's Baby Boucle, which I used to knit baby blankets. I found a comparable alternative in their house label, Baby Bee Lambikins Baby Boucle, but it's still not the same. It's too even and not as soft. But, I make do with the Baby Bee. 

Then there's the cross-stitch issues. I love cross-stitch, especially the patterns of Lavender & Lace and Mirabilia. The problem is that most of the patterns require really pretty linen fabric that isn't carried by a large chain store. Okay, that's fine. I'm able to get it on E-bay. It's more expensive than Aida, but it's worth it in the end. I can manage. 

Now is the greatest injustice: Hancock Fabrics no longer carries DMC floss. On random Sundays, when I'm out of a certain color, I scraped together a dollar and bought another skein down the street. Well, now they have Sullivan's. The convenient thing about Sullivan's is that their labels say "Comparable to DMC (insert color here)". So, what's the problem? Well, it's only comparable. It's not the same.  I can't use Sullivan's on a current project. All of my charts are in DMC. Comparable means that it is mostly the same but not exactly the same. It could be a shade off. WHY? Why did they do this? It's decidedly inconvenient. 

Dark Shadows 1991: 1.5

Continuing with my 1991 Revival Series episode summaries: 

“My name is Victoria Winters. Evening has descended at Collinwood, and for one man it is an evening filled with the promise of hope. But tonight betrayal awaits. The treachery of a confidant will shatter that hope, and his own true evil will be revealed.”

Willie serves dinner to Barnabas and Vikki. Barnabas dismisses him. Barnabas gives Vikki a gift—Josette’s music box. Vikki says that she cannot accept that, it she knows how much it means to him as a family heirloom. She comments that the tune is a minuet, and the two of them dance to the tune.

The next morning Vikki leaves the music box playing as she gets ready. Julia passes by the room and hears the familiar tune. She enters the room and closes the box. Vikki and Julia discuss the music box—Julia feigns ignorance as to where it came from. Vikki tells her that Barnabas gave it to her. Julia asks her the nature of the relationship, that she gets the feeling that Vikki wishes to talk to someone about the relationship. Is it love? Vikki asks her to keep quiet.

Julia goes to the Old House and asks after Barnabas. He went off for a walk, Willie says, even though he warns Barnabas about exposure to too much sun. She asks Willie about Barnabas’ relationship with Vikki. Willie confesses that he is a bit worried about the two of them. He shows her Josette’s room, and Julia immediately sees the resemblance of the portrait to Vikki. Willie says that Barnabas plans on marrying Vikki Winters as soon as he’s normal . Julia says that emotional attraction can cause a setback—Barnabas returns to the house and the two hide. Barnabas comes into the bedroom and talks to Josette’s portrait. Soon they will be together again, he tells her. At Collinwood, Julia writes in her journal about the relationship between the “subject and a certain young woman”. She feels it has proven harmful to the completion of the experiment and must put it on hold until the relationship is over.

Carolyn visits Joe at his boat. She asks if he believes in sailor’s superstition, and he says yes. She asks when he’s going to take her on the cruise he promised on her 13th birthday. The two sail off on Daphne. She attempts to seduce him, but he pushes her off. He can’t do this. I bet you can, she counters. He tells her to cool it and heads back to shore.

Julia gives Barnabas his next “dose”. How much longer? he asks. She warns him that they must proceed with moderation. He tells her he wants to be alive, to grow old, and to die.

At the Blue Whale, Carolyn and Joe eat dinner. Ketchup pools at the corner of his mouth, much like blood at the corner of a vampire’s—Carolyn cleans it off. Maggie watches and has a vision of Carolyn attacked by a monster. She says nothing. She and Sam close up.

Barnabas shares a drink with Vikki. She asks if he’s coming to Elizabeth’s costume party, where all the members of the family dress as their ancestors. Barnabas says that they may be able to find something for her in the attic. They find a dress that they believe is Josette’s. She says she enjoys the sense of ancestry at Collinwood. She knows nothing about her own family as she grew up in an orphanage. She says she feels connected to Josette. A storm begins, and Vikki is stuck at the Old House for a while. Barnabas suggests she spend the night there. She is unsure, but Barnabas said that Willie can make up the bed in Josette’s room and she can return in the morning. She prepares for bed and he wishes her a good night before leaving. “I’m in your room, I’m in your nightgown, and I’m going to sleep in your bed. I almost feel like I’m you,” Vikki says to the portrait.

Barnabas sits in front of the fireplace as the storm rages on. His mind goes back to Vikki in Josette’s room and Vikki’s slender, white throat. Barnabas roams the drawing room as Vikki sleeps upstairs. He walks up the stairs and into Josette’s room. He watches Vikki sleep and touches her neck. His teeth bared and eyes yellowed, he feels the urge to drink from her neck but manages to suppress it. Vikki sleeps on. Barnabas and Willie run outside to the Mausoleum. Barnabas insists that Willie chain himself into the coffin—he can no longer control himself.

Willie goes to Collinwood and wakes up Julia. He tells her she has to come immediately. He takes her to the mausoleum—Barnabas is no longer chained up. “What have you done to me, Julia?” he asks. He pushes Willie aside. She was only trying to protect him—that his relationship with Vikki is self-destructive. He grabs her face in his hand and demands that she tell him what she did. She diluted the serum. End this now, he tells her. She gets her bag and injects him with the serum.

The next morning all is well. Vikki is awake, and the two of them share breakfast. Barnabas notices that his hand has aged considerably. He knocks over a cup of coffee but says he’s fine. He insists that it is about time for Vikki to return and asks Willie to see her back when she’s finished with breakfast. He shows Willie his hands and tells him to bring Dr. Hoffman back her as soon as possible. Willie is detained by his aunt. Why is he there so early? To see her, of course! She asks why, and he tells her he’s thinking about planting a rose garden. They talk about the merits of fresh-cut flowers in the house. She’d be glad to help him in his garden! He declines his favorite breakfast. Thankfully, Julia walks down the stairs. He tells her that she must come to the Old House immediately, but she says that she can’t help him anymore. An agitated Willie leaves the house.

Carolyn enters the Old House looking for Barnabas. She sees Barnabas sitting near the window—only it’s not him, it’s a monster. He attacks her, and she tries to escape. Willie walks in the front door and hears her screams. It is too late. Barnabas has already fed off Carolyn. He cries out in pain at what he has done. He commands Willie to pull the drapes, which he quickly does. Immediately Barnabas changes from an old man back to his normal looks. Carolyn moans on the floor. “I had no choice, Willie,” Barnabas says as Willie cradles Carolyn in his arms. Barnabas looks in the mirror, but he cannot see his reflection. Willie understands the implications of this. Carolyn’s eyes open as Barnabas calls her name. She rises and goes to him. When he calls her, she will come. Dr. Hoffman will pay for what she has done to him.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Project Runway Season 5: Episode 1

I have loved Project Runway since Season 1. I had stumbled across it while flipping through the channels and caught up on four episodes on Saturday afternoon. I was hooked.  Then I had some cable issues and I didn't see Season 2, and I went through massive PR withdrawal. 

Luckily, I was back in cable with the third and fourth seasons. I loved it all! The fashion, the drama, the villains! Oh, the villains! My favorite so far is still Wendy Pepper, for the way she sucked everyone in with her motherly attitude and then willingly turned on them. Jeffrey from Season 3 I didn't see so much as a villain because I agreed with most of his feelings about whiny Angela. I just have to shove aside the fact that I wouldn't want anyone to talk that way to my mother, but sheesh, was that woman hard to work with! And the fleurshons? WTH? What grade are we in again? 

So, Season 5 began again this past week. I caught up on the episode today, and I have to admit, I was disappointed. 

Oh, it was all there--the mix of designers, Tim Gunn, Heidi, the grocery store challenge, and Austin Scarlet. But wow, what a lack of creativity and imagination. I remember the first time that Nina Garcia ripped into a designer for using trash bag couture, which has been so done. There was some seriously ugly going on there! I lost track of the amount of tablecloths that were used as the main part of the garment.  

I'm hoping that the designers kick it up a notch with the next episode, and I hope that a really great villain emerges. One episode was not enough for me to pin down who that person would be, but time will tell. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

The Masque of the Black Tulip is the second in Willig's series that began with The Secret of the Pink Carnation. As in a series, the set-up in both books are similar, with the main story of each book being historical and book-ended by a contemporary setting. 

Eloise the grad-student is researching her dissertation on Napoleonic-era spies. She stumbled across the most elusive of the flowery spies, the Pink Carnation, digging around archives and making friends with an elderly woman. Her main obstacle is not in the lack of resources but the access to them--currently blocked by the dishy Colin Selwick, descendent of an adventurous family. While at the Selwick family seat, she reads about the dangerous French spy, the Black Tulip, who is currently being tracked down by the Pink Carnation. 

The Pink Carnation herself plays a very small role in the book, with the bulk of the action with Henrietta Selwick and family friend Miles Dorrington. Miles works for the War Office and doesn't know that Henrietta receives communiques from the Pink Carnation in the form of letters highlighting events in the heart of Paris. Both are on the trail of the Black Tulip while trying desperately to not fall in love. 

As is typical in romances, the ending is predictable, but it is the journey that provides interest. The book transcends genre and falls into chick lit, romance, and historical fiction. The writing style is reminiscent of current historical romances, especially in subject and setting. Early nineteenth century England and spies are found in many romance novels written in the past decade, and this is the weakness of the series. Instead of being creative and jumping out of the box, it stays well inside current trends without being daring. Take away the frame story of Eloise and the book could be a Julia Quinn book. This is the greatest weakness of the book. Willig could have quite easily moved the action to the Crimean War and substitute the Russians for the French. That would be more challenging to write but more enjoyable to read. 

Despite that misgiving, I found the book delightful. The frame story with Eloise and Colin is interesting and is the main reason that I want to keep reading, for the story that composes about only 20% of the book! The story was well-paced with enough twists to keep me reading.  I loved the characters of Miles and Henrietta. 

One little quibble that glared at me: as knowledgeable she is about the early nineteenth century, Willig does not know her Greek philosophers. From page 391: 
"Was it worth it, Theresa?" 
"Can you ask?"
"Can you answer?"
 "Can you save the Platonic dialogue for some other occasion?" demanded Miles. 

Ugh. That would be Socrates. Socrates taught his students through questioning. When used in the classroom, this is known as "socratic seminar". Easy enough to check. So, of course it is galling to read this in her Historical Notes
During the Napoleonic Wars, espionage was largely conducted through a subdepartment of the Home Office called the Alien Office, to avoid confusion, and distressing images of extraterrestrials wandering around London, I followed the fictional tradition that ascribes stealthy deeds of daring to the War Office.
WTH? Don't insult the intelligence of your readers. I'm sure most of us could figure out what that meant without thinking of ET phoning home during 1803. 

So, for those few quibbles, I couldn't give a grade of an A. No, I have to give a B+. But it's a very high B+. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin's Baby Proof tells the story of Claudia and Ben, a couple at a cross-roads. Happily married for a few years, Claudia finds her marriage disintegrating because both have different views on having children. She feels betrayed because they both agreed early on in their relationship that they would be child-free, but the recent birth of a friend's baby has a shift in priorities for Ben. The book chronicles the end of their marriage and Claudia picking up the pieces of her life after the divorce. 

Giffin writes in first person, which has its place in fiction. The problem with first person is that it can be bogged down in narrative, causing the book to plod along. Many times I wonder if there is a point to Claudia's reminisces, and eventually there is, but the writing could have been done more cleanly. She spends over two pages talking about her relationship with her best friend, from when they met at Princeton (an Ivy-League education is a must for a Giffin-girl), all the way up until the present. Her interior monologues are also extensive, mostly Claudia waxing nostalgic or trying to put her thoughts in gear. While that is realistic, it only serves to slow the story down. One example is when Claudia is talking to a new man in her life about different types of facial hair--the soul patch vs. the goatee. Right in the middle of the conversation, interrupting the flow of their dialog: (p. 140) 
I describe the difference, pointing to my chin. Richard nods, looking enlightened. I am reminded of my favorite facial hair story. Years ago, Michael was in a mustache-growing contest with another guy at work. Michael was badly losing, and to demonstrate this point over lunch, he nodded toward a girl named Sally whom he actually had a minor crush on and said, "Even Sally would kick my ass." He was trying to be funny, but unfortunately, Sally was a dark-haired Italian and one of those girls who waxes her upper lip. Sally was horrified and humiliated, as was Michael when he realized his slip. I tell Richard the story now, and he laughs.

She also spends  a page describing Daphne's love for the cheesy and adolescent (p. 152-153). A reference to stuffed animals and Britney Spears would have been plenty enough for me to understand that point. And yet, when she and Richard have sex for the first time, all the reader gets is, "Moments later, Richard and I are having sex" (p. 160). Woo-woo. 

The book is also loaded with "baby talk". The reader already knows that Claudia doesn't want one and Ben does, but there is more. Their best friends, Ray and Annie, have a son who is the catalyst for the change. Claudia's sister Daphne and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child and conversations about her fertility treatments. Her other sister has three kids and a philandering husband. Her best friend Jess is seeing a married man and my be pregnant. In fact, one of the best moments of the book is when they all get together for her birthday and things become tense very quickly. For Claudia, everyone seems to be talking about babies when she has made a huge decision regarding not having babies. It's like the fact that I have a cat, I notice the neighborhood cats more often. I'm more attuned to them. Likewise, these issues have constantly been in Claudia's life, but since they are mirroring her own problems, she is more sensitive to them. 

I had a really tough time liking the characters in the book. All of Giffin's characters are Ivy-League educated and have spectacular jobs in New York. They wear designer clothes. They have huge Manhattan apartments or houses in the suburbs. Their main issues are their relationships. I have a hard time liking Claudia, mostly because when the chips are down, she runs. When she and Ben have their first real fight about children, she leaves, moves in with her best friend, and gets a divorce attorney. There are no moments when the two of them attempt counseling to see what is the real issue underlying their problems, or IF there is an issue. Yet, later in the book, Claudia seems to have twisted things: 
I sit at my desk... wondering whether Ben would have left if I had been diagnosed with a serious illness. If I had only a few years left to live. Or, if I couldn't conceive--as opposed to being unwilling to do so. I can't imagine Ben leaving me under any of those circumstances. So how could he leave simply because I didn't want kids? I wasn't throwing hardship at him; I just wanted things to stay the same. Couldn't my husband just love me enough to stay?

WTH? Claudia was the one that left, she was the one that initiated the divorce proceedings. I hate it when I question what happened earlier in the book and I certainly don't want to go back to look to see if I disremembered something. 

Then, when her sister contemplates divorce from the philanderer, Claudia questions if this is a bit quick, if Maura should think about it (p. 276). Perhaps Claudia is thinking of her own experience and wants to impart some wisdom, but I am so sick of her by this point. 

Overall, I found this book to be disappointing and a slow read. I rate it at the B-/C+ range. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

Club Dead is the third installment in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series. The series focuses on a young Louisiana woman with telepathic powers who is pulled into the world of the supernatural. Each book introduces the reader to new parts of the supernatural world, a world that for the most part is unseen to the average human. 

Because of her talent at reading people's thoughts, Sookie has found relationships difficult. Her boyfriend Bill, however, is a vampire, and therefore impervious to her telepathy. Bill has gone missing, and Sookie is sent to find him. She has mixed feelings about this, considering that Bill has probably cheated on her with an old vampire flame, and she's tired of acting on the whims of the vampire community. Her trip takes her to Mississippi in the company of Alcide, a werewolf. In order to find Bill, they must go into Club Dead, a local club for supernaturals. While there (of course), she gets into a bit of trouble that brings her into contact with the vampire King of Mississippi, who is responsible for Bill's abduction. And where humans are wary of her because of her mind-reading abilities, the vampires and Weres are more than willing to make her acquaintance. 

The Sookie Stackhouse series is one of those that has a beginning but no definable end is in sight. Like the Janet Evanovich Plum series, this series has the potential of going on with books into the teens. This means that we'll have books as long as Harris has ideas. 

Of the three books that I have read, this is the weakest. The action at the end was anticlimactic, with the troubles at the King of Mississippi's compound seemingly easy to overcome. I would have thought that there would have been more resistance. 

One thing I did find out is that I prefer the Weres over the vampires. I like Alcide's character more than boyfriend Bill and the seductive Eric (whose alias is Leif. Ha!). I have a feeling that Alcide will be popping up in future books. 

I enjoyed the book and was able to pick it up with anticipation. Sookie's first person narrative is easy to read and isn't filled with infodump and memories from previous books. Harris' books are one of the few authors that I enjoy reading the first person narrative. First person is not easy to write, so kudos! I give the book a solid B. 

Friday, July 11, 2008

Yarn Geek Love

I'm not usually the type of person that buys something merely because it's on sale. Now, if I want an item and it's on sale, that's a different matter. I need it, I have a place for it in my life, I can't live without it. But normally, if the item does not fill one of those three requirements, I don't buy it. 

For example, I don't usually buy yarn for the sake of buying yarn. I don't have the room to keep the stash. I try to limit it to one box. 

That plan didn't work so well. 

Ever since I've discovered the evil that is Ravelry, my interest in knitting has resurged. That combined with the fact that I am making stuff for my future niece/nephew as well. So on my birthday, I walk into Hobby Lobby (part of the crafter's wallet axis of evil) and there is CLEARANCE YARN in two buggies. So, I buy some really cool yarn to make scarves. It's $.99. I have never seen yarn for $.99. And it's pretty. I can make scarves out of it. 

So, I have a plan for it. I start knitting with it (because the baby blanket has stalled). Christmas gifts. Cool. Most of the stuff I leave behind because I don't like the colors or the type of yarn it is. 

I go back today because I'm over in that general direction. The plan is to look for an affordable lamp (ha!) to put in my front room. My cart veers towards the yarn. I find MORE clearance yarn! And conveniently enough, it's the same stuff--different colors--of the baby blanket. It's purple. I love purple. Kate love's purple. It's originally $5.59 a skein. I pick it up for $1.99. I get 14 skeins. 

I'm in trouble. 

Doll Geek Love

Anyone who knows me or has checked out this blog knows that I love dolls. My aunt started me at the age of four with porcelain dolls, but the problem with them is that you can't play with them. Then it was the Barbies, which I collected for a good while. I still have most of my collection, though most of it is hardly MC-NRFB. I liked to take my dolls out of the boxes. And then I got the American Girl dolls, first Samantha, and then Molly. Lately I've been making doll clothes during my summer vacay, using up random material in my stash. When browsing through the American Girl website, I noticed that their limited edition 2008 doll, Mia, was a figure skater and a HOCKEY PLAYER! ! !  

And then I saw Mia's 2-1 Outfit, and I had to have. Since it didn't come with the skates, I had to buy Mia's Meet Accessories as well. Conveniently, my parents gave me money for my birthday, so I went ahead and ordered the two items. 

Here's the boring part of the outfit: 

The outfit has a cute sweater with long-sleeve mittens,  skate blade covers, skate bag, and an iPod style headphone set. It even plays music. Oh, and it came with leg-warmers, too. 

But this is the cool part of the outfit: 

She has a hockey jersey! And a stick with a puck! How adorable is that outfit? And the doll (which is Molly, BTW), even comes with frizzy long hair, just like mine. 

Next up: figuring out how to make a Carolina Hurricane's jersey for the doll. 

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Great Birthday Present from Time Magazine

Today is my birthday! And this morning I found an awesome article by Time Magazine about the most obnoxious tourists in the world. Guess what? Americans are no longer the most obnoxious tourists in the world! 

Cue the fireworks. 

According to the article, a non-scientific poll conducted by Expedia says that the French are the most obnoxious tourists in the world. The survey was given to 4000 hoteliers in France, the UK, the US, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. Hotel workers see it all, have to deal with checking in clients, checking them out, dealing with room service, with payment issues, and rock star destruction. Here are the crimes committed by French tourists the world over: 
Will that move them to improve behavior the poll characterized as impolite, prone to loud carping and inattentive to local customs? If so, that's just the start: the study also describes the voyageur fran├žais as often unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages, and particularly disinclined to spending money when they don't have to — including on those non compris tips. 
Wow. "Unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages?" That shocked me. I always felt that as a matter of respect you should do as the Romans. After all, if I wanted to do things the same way as I do them at home, I'd have stayed home and save my money. When I was in England, I did my best to immerse myself in the culture. I wasn't completely successful because I had 20 years of being American behind me. But I mad the effort, and that's what is important. I may not know French really well (despite years of French language classes in high school and college), but I'd make an effort to je voudrais un coca at the McDo.  The same thing goes for people visiting different regions of the same country--I'm going to try the Philly cheese steak in Philly, I'm going to eat good Italian food in the Northeast, and I'm going to eat the barbecue in Texas. 
American tourists fared well in some surprising ways: despite being notoriously language-limited, for example, they top the list of tourists credited with trying to speak local languages the most, with the French, Chinese, Japanese, Italians and Russians coming in last in the local language rankings.
See? We try to speak the languages! And with my experience with teenagers, they love language--they just hate the grammar. Who wants to know how to spell? They want to know how to converse, what foods to ask for and, most importantly, what curse words to use.  My friend Anna came to talk to my students a few years ago and they wanted to know how to spell their names in Russian and ask simple questions. 

So, where's the good news for Americans? Where do we rank in the hotelier survey? 
Over all, French travelers landed 19th out of 21 nations worldwide, far behind the first-place Japanese, considered most polite, quiet and tidy. Following the Japanese as most-liked tourists were the Germans, British and Canadians. Americans finished in 11th place alongside the Thais.
Woo-hoo! We're middle of the pack! Take that, mediocrity! The Japanese bit didn't surprise me, though I would have thought the non-offensive Canadians would have rated hire than the British, though both are completely agreeable. 

Of course, this does nothing to dispel the "stupid American" myth, which irritate me to no end when I was in the UK. And it wasn't the Brits that said that to me (for the most part). One girl from Bulgaria said that I "was the smartest American" she had ever met. 

I was the second American she met. And the first didn't really count because she carried passports of three countries and grew up in Germany. Yeah, that's a scientific poll. 

So, perhaps our reputation is improving. Yeah, we're Puritanical and repressed, but we're also so wonderfully average. We'll never be as nice as the Japanese, but at least we're eight whole spots above the French. 

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ellen Fisher's The Light in the Darkness

The Light in the Darkness by Ellen Fisher was published ten years ago and is described as her first  historical romance. Since then she has written in a variety of sub-genres, including paranormal and contemporary romance. 

I can't remember when I first heard about this book, but I think it was one of the Smart Bitches "Help a Bitch Out" posts a while back. I then put it on my wish list at Paperback Swap and received it a few weeks ago. 

The hero at the center of the story is Edward Greyson, an extremely tortured hero that could teach other romance heroes a thing or two about the real meaning of "tortured hero". He is a drunk, wallowing in the pain of the tragic death of his first wife, Diana. His sister, fed up with being the social pariah of colonial Virginia, tells him that he has to find himself a wife. He does, and does he show her! He saves a tavern wench from a beating and marries her. He brings her back to his spectacular house, thinking to leave her to work in the kitchens, because he has no intention of truly making her his wife. 

The sister, Catherine, irritated that he brought home a dirty, bedraggled girl, intends to call his bluff.  She takes Jennifer in hand with the intent of making her into a proper Virginia lady. Jennifer, despite having a less than spectacular upbringing, proves to be intelligent and more than up to the task, especially since she has fallen in love with Grey. She knows he's a surly drunk, but after reading letters he sent to his first wife, she senses that there's something more underneath the gruff exterior. 

The strength of the book is its pacing. It unfolds over the period of one year, realistically allowing Jennifer to bloom into her own as well as describing the pitfalls in the relationship she wishes to have with Grey. Grey is very mercurial, mostly because he wishes to hold on to the memories of his dead wife while finding himself attracted to his new wife. 

The book is well-written, the pacing is good, and the character growth is excellent. The internal dialog of the characters is not overdone. She did her historical research without dumping it into the book. (There is one delightful cameo by a young Thomas Jefferson who can't hold his ale!) The one thing that stuck at me, though, was the constant switch in point of view. One minute the reader is in Jennifer's head, while in the next the reader is in Grey's. That is a minor quibble, though, when placed next to the good qualities of the book. 

My grade? A. 

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Kirsten's Dirndl and Kerchief

Back when I first started collecting the American Girl dolls (first Samantha and then Molly), Pleasant Company sold an outfit known as Kirsten's Dirndl and Kerchief. From the little I remember from 17 years ago (when I first got my dolls), it is a traditional Swedish outfit that Kirsten wore on the long boat ride from Sweden to America. The outfit has long since been retired. Here's what the official dress looked like: 

I decided I liked it and tried to make it. Here's what I cam up with: 

I think it's pretty durn close. I used parts from three different patterns: 
  • From Kirsten's Pretty Clothes, I used the pantalettes pattern and the skirt bottom from the School Dress. 
  • From Molly's Pretty Clothes, I used the jumper top from her Plaid Jumper and Blouse pattern. 
  • From Addy's Pretty Clothes, I used the blouse pattern from her School Outfit (which has also been retired!) 
There are a few obvious differences between the original and mine: 
  • The skirt in my version is not stripes, but plaid like the jumper section. 
  • The jumper section is different as well. I don't have the lacing in the front. I have a problem with making the grommets work on the material, even with using interfacing in between the layers. Maybe I don't use enough force or pressure. 
Overall, I like the way that it turned out. It may be different, but it is original!